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I am seeing both 20$ and $20 usages. (20 is nonessential to this question.)

What is the difference between them?

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The $ is usually put before the number to discourage forging. It's much harder to change $20 to $320 than with changing 20$ to 320$. –  John Smith Feb 4 '11 at 15:34
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@John Smith: that explanation doesn't fly, as it is extremely easy to change $20 to $200, but you can't change 20$ to 200$. Besides, if your theory were true, that would mean that accountants from many other countries are somehow stupider than their American and British colleagues. –  RegDwigнt Feb 4 '11 at 15:55
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@RegDwight There is usually a period at the other end so my explanation still holds. –  John Smith Feb 4 '11 at 17:17
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It would actually be pretty useful in discouraging forging of numbers if we padded all the whole number with dollar signs... $362$ ! –  sova Feb 4 '11 at 21:50
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@RegDwight you can not only change $20 to $200 but also 20$ to 220$ which is better because you even get more money ;). SO I don't think fraud prevention is a valid reason, if it was, we should write $20$, I think it's more of a custom, a preferred usage. Although it makes more sense to me to write any units after the number as in 20$, the same way you read it, twenty dollars, not dollars twenty. –  Petruza Feb 5 '11 at 16:00

11 Answers 11

up vote 31 down vote accepted

It is the convention of some countries to put their currency symbol before the number, while others put it after the number.

At least one country has put it in the middle.

So you could assume, in the absence of any context, that the 20$ is a different currency to $20.

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Just as a matter of interest, which country puts its currency symbol in the middle of numbers? :-) –  Tragicomic Feb 4 '11 at 13:14
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@Tragicomic "...before they were abolished, the signs for the Portuguese escudo and the French franc were placed in the decimal position (i.e., 50$00 or 12₣34)" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Currency_sign –  Ed Guiness Feb 4 '11 at 13:17
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@JSBangs: An amount of Portuguese escudos without a fractionary part could be written like that: 20$. Fractionary parts were kind of rare (at least during my lifetime), because there was only one coin of a non-integral denomination, 2$50. That was enough to buy... a mint. –  R. Martinho Fernandes Feb 4 '11 at 15:53
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@JSBangs @Ed In French-speaking Canada, the dollar sign is often written after the number. 50$ or 50.00$. In English, it's always before the number. –  ghoppe Feb 4 '11 at 16:30
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@Ed Guiness: that is still valid in France, with the Euro. You would write 5€30 for instance. –  nico May 21 '11 at 15:58

In English, the dollar sign is placed before the amount, so the correct order is $20, as others have noted.

However, when you see people using 20$, it's likely they're being influenced by a few different things:

  1. Many other countries (and the Canadian province of Quebec) put the currency symbol after the amount
  2. In spoken English the word dollars follows the amount, e.g. twenty dollars
  3. The sign for cents is placed after the amount: 25¢

Because of these inconsistencies, writing 20$ is a very common mistake. I've been known to do it myself.

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+1 for mentioning in #3 that the currency mark comes before the amount and the coinage mark comes after the amount. –  oosterwal Feb 4 '11 at 19:58
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What really irks me is when people write things like "$20 dollars". –  Hellion Feb 4 '11 at 20:04
    
Really I never use either $20 or 20$ but 20 USD. What is wrong with it? –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 4 '11 at 22:47
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@Hellion, what always amuses me are the signs that say ".99¢". (When my 7th grade algebra teacher saw something like this, she would give the cashier a penny and say "keep the change".) –  Marthaª Feb 5 '11 at 5:07
    
@Martha Nice :), but cashier is not guilty, it is marketers who wrote, the dot is not seen by me, it was "[dot]99¢" –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 6 '11 at 7:00

In American English, the currency symbol is placed before the amount; the same is true for British English.
It is $20, not 20$.

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Not true. when in American English you write the euro (like 20€ ) you put it on the end. –  ja72 Feb 4 '11 at 17:44
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@ja72: [citation needed]. As an American, I've always seen and written the Euro's currency symbol before the amount -- €20. The Wikipedia article also uses the symbol-first style. In fact, "20€" looks strange and incorrect to me. –  josh3736 Feb 4 '11 at 18:45
    
@josh3736, you seem to me more like Euro-American than American :) –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 4 '11 at 22:50
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@ja72, @josh3736: There is no standard regarding euro sign placement; it varies by language and it's entirely conventional. Please see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euro_sign#Usage –  CesarGon Feb 4 '11 at 23:59
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@CesarGon: You're absolutely correct. But in the context of American English -- which is what we're talking about here -- the convention is definitely symbol-first. –  josh3736 Feb 5 '11 at 19:30

The location of the currency depends on the language in which it appears.

For instance, English texts should use "€ 20" while French ones should use "20 €".

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+1 Thanks, this is helpful though € does not cause any confusion as the $ symbol does –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 4 '11 at 22:53
    
Unfortunately there is no agreed/adopted English (France), at least, now. 20 € is adopted for French (France). It is interesting to note that English (Canada) uses $20 and French(Canada) 20$. One can see currency format in Operating system Regional and Language Options –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 5 '11 at 13:58

As others have mentioned in passing, those are not the only two possibilities. In France at least, you sometimes find prices written as 19€95, as an alternative to 19,95€ (and yes, the decimal separator there is the comma).

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In France they write it that way because they are writing French and not English. It's the language that is important here, not the currency. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Feb 4 '11 at 15:41
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@long-pseudonym: I most certainly agree; I was only pointing out that some languages have a third alternative –  F'x Feb 4 '11 at 17:42
    
Btw, it's enough to type the first three characters to address someone. So @Mr. would presumably work. –  ShreevatsaR Feb 7 '11 at 20:19

$20 is conventional, but to throw a wrench in the whole thing: if it is casual correspondence, either way is OK.

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Do you mean that $20 and 20$ are casual writing? I would expect 20 USD be used in formal documents and even in casual correspondence in order to avoid ambiguity. It is confusing to me when an Argentian writes in English-written text the $20 or the 20$. Is it Argentian Peso or USD? –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 4 '11 at 22:33
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Casual, formal, email, printed, doesn't matter: if the language is English, $20 is the only correct way to use the dollar sign. 20$ is always incorrect in English. –  Marthaª Feb 5 '11 at 5:00
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And who asked about dollar sign? $ is the currency sign, denoting a multitude of different currencies. It doesn't tell anything which one. BTW, the dollar sign, initially called peso sign, does not identify currency either –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 5 '11 at 14:06
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@vgv8, re "And who asked about the dollar sign?": You did. The name of the $ symbol is "dollar sign". It is not a generic currency symbol. (There is a generic currency symbol defined, but I've never seen it used: ¤.) Yes, there are multiple currencies that use the dollar sign, but that's irrelevant to English usage. –  Marthaª Feb 7 '11 at 20:17
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"$20" is, in fact, not english at all. –  horatio Feb 8 '11 at 15:31

In Argentina other countries it's the same, $20, I think it's the most widely used convention. Happens the same with Euro €20.
If you think of it as a unit (Not sure if it's considered as such) then it's the only unit I can think of that comes before the number. Consider 23 cm, 6 in, 2"

Edit: removed a mention to a country which doesn't seem to be relevant to this site and the English language.

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The question is relative to English language, as this is a site about English Language and usage. In Argentina, English is not the official language, nor is the most spoken language. :-) –  kiamlaluno Feb 4 '11 at 14:22
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@kiamlaluno true, but that doesn't mean that s/he should not be able to make observations about how foreign currency is written and post it as a possible answer to the question. –  Will Feb 4 '11 at 18:15
    
+1 (3 hours ago) My question originates from post by a Spanish poster mentioning $20 while I lived in Portugal for 12 years and remember that they used 20$00 (00-for centavos and 20 - for Portuguese escudos). Now, having seen other comments to other questions, for example, to this I want to openly give credit to this answer, which first "deviated" from English –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 4 '11 at 19:18
    
Here is my comment why I found this answer the most useful to me. I hope it contains also elements of answer not to be considered as violation of rules of this Q&A board. –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 4 '11 at 20:50
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I was citing an example of standard usage in other cultures and languages. Besides, this currency notation is not exclusively related to the English language. "$20" does not belong solely to English, it's a valid expression in many languages and cultures, as arabic numerals don't belong only to english, and neither does the $ symbol. For example, in argentina $20 means "Veinte pesos" while in USA it means "Twenty dollars". The English language has many influences and lives in a cultural context, and as such, references from other languages and cultures are indeed relevant to this site. –  Petruza Feb 5 '11 at 3:08

20$ is French-Canadian and $20 is English-Canadian/American.

French Canadian Dollar in Wiki

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The Office for Quebec's French language have a page on that : granddictionnaire.com/BTML/FRA/r_Motclef/index800_1.asp –  Philippe Lavoie Feb 4 '11 at 21:57
    
+1 thanks, one more useful answer. I already did not expect any new influx. You'd better add by editing –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 4 '11 at 22:07
    
This is very good answer. I do not like to re-mark my answers but I shall think once more tomorrow morning, thanks again –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 4 '11 at 22:40
    
Unfortunately I could not grasp whether this convention is hooked to French language or to French Canadian Dollar? –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 5 '11 at 14:04
    
My guest is : it's French. And the only French speaking in the world that use the '$' sign for their currency is the Québécois (which I am :D) –  Philippe Lavoie Feb 5 '11 at 14:43

For dollars, the correct way is $20. When I see 20$ it means the writer was thinking "twenty dollars" (not "dollars twenty") and accordingly it is natural to type 20$ and if the writer is feeling lazy she will not backspace to correct it. Laziness is more common in casual contexts.

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+1 Thanks. Might be it was obvious for English speaking people but not for me. –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 6 '11 at 16:50

Why all the overcomplication? The difference is that, in English, $20 is the correct way to use the dollar sign, while 20$ is an incorrect way to use the dollar sign. That's all there is to it.

Other languages and currencies are irrelevant to the question. Heck, how the cent sign is used is irrelevant to the question, even though it is arguably the same currency and definitely the same language.

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Does English forbid using non-dollar currencies? "The dollar sign ($), originally called the peso sign, is a symbol primarily used to indicate the various peso and dollar units of currency around the world". There is nothing in its definition stipulating its relative position as well as it is only for dollar. Also, it is not clear that $ denotes dollar but not some other non-dollar currency sign –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 5 '11 at 5:42
    
It is not me who downvoted you but, as afterthought, I just looked into Currency format in in the Windows Control Panel--> Regional and Language Options for Spanish(Mexico): $123,456,789.00 . Now, If a Mexican writes $20 in English text, how do you know which currency he means? And –  Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 5 '11 at 13:32
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Poor, lousy and trolling answer. –  Petruza Feb 5 '11 at 15:56
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I am truly puzzled by all the downvotes. @vgv8: since the question is about the $ sign (which is called the "dollar sign" in common parlance), I fail to see what relevance other currencies have. Also, your remark about Portuguese usage makes no sense: if it "was put neither at the left nor at the right", what location does that leave? Behind my ear on the little shelf, as my mother likes to say? @Petruza, "poor" and "lousy" mean the same thing, so it's redundant to list both adjectives; and I'm not trolling, I'm just stating facts. –  Marthaª Feb 6 '11 at 5:47
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@Martha: other currencies are relevant because the $ sign is used for many other currencies! As other answers point out, 20$ is correct in e.g. French-speaking Canada (an example). Insofar as the OP is probably asking about US usage, though, I’d agree with your answer. –  PLL Feb 11 '11 at 2:11

I think that part of putting the symbol preceding the number is to help differentiate between dollars and cents. The dollar symbol always precedes, while the cent symbol always follows. If both were to followed, this could potentially become confusing, as a roughly written S with a vertical strike could be mistaken for a c with a vertical strike.

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This line of reasoning is from the realm of wild speculation, and worse still, I'm not even following it. Numbers themselves can be easily mistaken for other numbers, and often are. Yet nothing has been done about that. Besides, again, you suggest that accountants from other countries are dumber or more careless than their American and British colleagues. –  RegDwigнt Nov 25 '12 at 14:41

protected by RegDwigнt Nov 25 '12 at 14:42

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